The Perfect Pop Song: Part 1 (“Dear Prudence”)
Propose a list of anyone and everyone’s top ten or the song that was playing during their first kiss and you’re going to see an endless thread, a bottomless scroll of responses. Everyone likes that game, and wants to get in on it.
And then there’s the bitter parsing of what sucks, what kind of music isn’t really music, as well as which top-ranked guitarist has pushed aside someone who is far more deserving of that accolade. It appears that that kind of game is, sadly, the internet’s forte.
So, what indeed is (before I even get to “perfect”) a “pop song”, as opposed to simply accruing millions of internet “likes” or stuffing the pockets of recording industry executives?
“Pop” means “popular”, but has also come to indicate a certain kind of cultural artefact, alternately beloved and/or possibly kitschy; debased or showing the inherent genius within any given genre.
The parameters of the “perfect pop song” only come to me now and then, vaguely, and just like trying to pick the perfect songs for my funeral (limited to 3), I add, pile-up, cross-off, decide that doesn’t really fit, and come to the conclusion that I’m forcing something into a category that may not apply. It then seems, in my arbitrary ramblings, that “perfect pop”, should be a song that is relatively complex, with not too obvious a structure, yet accessible. This generally means not too loud, calming, but with a proper “hook”, something your older generation mom and your backseat toddler as well as the morose teenager can groove to.
But does it have to be a “hit”, that is: at the top of the charts? If we consider the whole context of “pop music”, it necessarily includes everything from technology, to marketing, to race relations, to imperialism, then perhaps the “perfect pop song” might be buried in some country way over there, out of the purview of (say) Capitol Records. My ears are unavoidably biased, which again, exposes my personal parameters to be somewhat arbitrary.
Yes, I’m talking about America, the U.S. of A. where these white American ears grew up, listening to The Beatles coming out of the tiny speaker of an AM car radio. But it was many, many years later, when picking and choosing off of The Beatles’ White Album (an album that was initially too broad and diverse for my pre-teen ears), that I hit on “Dear Prudence” as the “perfect pop song”.
As explicated by Wikipedia (link), “The (Lennon’s guitar) technique, known as clawhammer picking, was later described by Donovan (who taught it to Lennon) as “the Carter Family finger style”. That’s exemplary pop provenance, when combined with the song’s origins in India where The Beatles were ensconced in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s mediation compound. The song has all that, as well as the psychotropic-influenced vocal harmonies typical of that period in The Beatles’ recording history.
As far as I can tell, “Dear Prudence” wasn’t released as a single, does not have a specific charting history, and might be considered as part of that nebulous “classic rock” category: the “deep cut”. Inexplicably, Siouxsie and the Banshees, a band I’d be hard put to call “pop” even though they clearly are, or want to be, regardless of their Punk Rock provenance, achieved a Number 3 hit on the British charts with a cover of the song.
The now well-known name-checked Prudence Farrow (Mia’s sister, if you need to know) states, in the Wikipedia entry: “It (the song) epitomized what the Sixties were about in many ways. What it’s saying is very beautiful; it’s very positive. I think it’s an important song. I thought it was one of their least popular and more obscure songs.” So there you go: it’s a least popular, obscure song by that pop juggernaut, The Beatles!
On the other side of the aisle, Bill Wyman (no, not The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman) wrote an article that stands in for what I said at the beginning of this article. A ranking of 213 Beatles songs (link), from worst to best, which embodies not only the obsessiveness of list-making (yeah, who wouldn’t want to get paid for that?) but the negative, opinionated cast of certain online critics. Nevertheless, he puts “Dear Prudence” near the top at Number 6: “: “Another almost-perfect rock song.” Gee, I thought it was/is the perfect pop song.
While you’re at it, why not try out: The Perfect Pop Song: Part 2 (“If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight”)